The importance of the Humble Essay as an indispensible piece of lifesaving equipment

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Despite the positivity of his better judgement, it was with a looming intuitive sense of impending doom nestling and nauseatingly effervescing inside his ribcage that Hans stood facing the imposing oak door marked with a meticulously polished brass plaque reading “HEADMASTER: MR EGBERT P D HOCKEY-CROMPTON”. Proudly gripped between his grubby little fingers was the satisfyingly substantial heap of paper whose embellishment with countless lines of his spiky handwriting had earned him the Creative Writing Prize. Having heard the burbling tones of a Headmaster unmistakably engrossed in discussion, he had decided that on this occasion lurking outside would be a more appropriate option than knocking and was attempting to enjoy the amusement of eavesdropping on Hockey-Crompton’s rather absurd conversation. It was clear immediately that the exchange in question was one involving deputy head Professor Wilberforce Garty and permanently befuddled Head of Philosophy, Dr Belinda Ellenglaze.

“I’m having difficulty remembering… have I given you an invitation to my garden party yet?” droned the dreamy tones of the distinct voice of Dr Ellenglaze.

“A garden party!” exclaimed Hockey-Crompton in sheer excitement.

“I didn’t say anything,” muttered Garty fuzzily into his moustache, appearing somewhat bewildered.

“Pardon, Garty!”

“Are you hard of hearing, Egbert old chap? I say, that’s the second time you’ve inquired as to what I said and for the second time I shall inform you that I did not so much as emit a single squeak! More port, please, Belinda?”

“Umm… I’m sorry, please don’t think me rude or anything but I slipped into a daydream and now this conversation is confusing me,” confessed Ellenglaze, deeply apologetically.

“I was just trying to convey to Garty the concept of his being invited to your jolly splendid garden party.”

“Oh… I see! How spiffing! A garden party!” announced Garty in his profound enlightenment.

“Pardon, Garty!”

“Dearest Egbert, as much as it amuses you, will you please refrain from mocking poor Professor Garty?”

It was at this point that Hans reached the conclusion that the teachers were almost certainly absolutely sloshed and were talking utter drivel and that to expect the appearance of any vaguely fascinating scandal in their conversation would be about as rational as projecting a small lump of play-dough at the revolving propeller of a fair-sized aircraft and expecting it to emerge as a perfectly formed scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. Swift action was what was required, and this was precisely what was administered in the form of three heavy wooden thuds of the door as it made contact with Hans’ reddening knuckles.

“Visitors!” burbled Hockey-Crompton, “How absolutely splendid!”

After much fumbling, mumbling and general ineptitude the door was flung open and Ellenglaze and Garty wafted silently out. Ellenglaze floated away down the corridor on a transcendental philosophical cloud all of her own, the bulbous figure of Garty trudging on behind her, marking their path down the musty corridor with a billowing trail of pipe smoke.

“Young Master Kornik-Angstram – what a surprise! Do come in!”

Hans nervously followed the strikingly merry Headmaster into the smoky depths of his lair, which smelt uncannily like a particularly unsavoury variety of tavern. The latter made a desperate attempt to conceal the half-empty decanter of port behind an insubstantially puny flowerpot containing a drooping plant on which the many months of passive smoking were evidently taking their toll. Appearing not to notice the somewhat conspicuous manner in which the offending item was protruding from the ailing shrubbery or credit his alcohol-induced befuddlement with the ability to speak for itself, Hockey-Crompton seated himself and commenced the meeting.

“I take it you’re the one who won the third year creative writing prize… or are you the one who set fire to that dinner lady’s beard? One can never tell with you, Kornik-Angstram, my dear boy!”

Hans politely affirmed that he was in fact the winner of the Creative Writing prize and proceeded to successfully stifle an almost uncontrollable giggle whilst inquiring as to the present condition of the aforementioned dinner lady and her beard. By the time the Old Headmaster had requested to be presented with the celebrated manuscript, Hans’ demeanour was relaxed enough for him to display a delightful grin as he gleefully slapped it down amongst the varied assortment of curious bits of paper on Hockey-Crompton’s spectacularly untidy desk. It was on observing the piece of work that the Headmaster finally dropped a bombshell.

“Before I start drivelling on with all that headmasterly congratulation piffle, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask if you could shed any light on a matter that has been perplexing me for quite some days now.”

“Go ahead,” replied Hans, starting to feel uneasy.

Hockey Crompton muttered profusely to himself in a manner that caused his beard to vibrate most peculiarly as he rummaged amongst the immense mound of rubble on his desk. Finally, he dug out an exquisitely crafted paper aeroplane, which he handed to the boy. After the agonising click of immediate recognition, Hans’ heart began to pound ferociously against his ribcage. With shaking fingers he delicately took hold of the article, frantically endeavouring to scrutinise it as though he had never before set eyes on it. Whilst he carefully unfolded his creation, the Headmaster interjected, causing Hans to almost fall off his chair in terror.

“Yes, if you’ll excuse my brashness, you do seem to be particularly well-acquainted with the… well… shall we say… rotters… of this school? I was wondering if you had any idea who may have inserted this nastiness through my office window. Is the handwriting at all familiar to you?”

“No,” lied Hans decisively, “I’ve never seen it in my life, and even amongst the worst behaved of my chums I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t have the utmost respect for you.”

Hockey-Crompton nodded, registering smug satisfaction along with a sort of patronising admiration for the young chap.

Hans then made the fundamental error of, having considered himself to have successfully clambered out of a potentially disastrous situation, depositing the fully unfolded plane, embellished prominently with slanderous comments concerning Hockey-Crompton’s relationship with his secretary, right next to his Creative Writing.

“Good God!” remarked the Old Headmaster, immediately having noticed the unavoidable fact that the handwriting on the plane was practically identical to that which was indubitably Hans’. Hans was aghast and for several absurdly elongated seconds did nothing but stand there wondering what the hell to do with his ridiculously existent body.

“I should’ve guessed it was you,” continued Hockey-Crompton, registering a complete lack of surprise. Without any further hesitation, he produced an ancient leather-bound book the precise size and shape of an extraordinarily substantial brick, which he pounded down on top of Hans’ masterpiece. The title, embossed in faded yet still curiously imposing gold letters, read,


Hans goggled at the book in sheer horror. At this point the fact that inanimate objects are, unless sufficiently propelled, completely harmless to human beings who sensibly decide to leave them alone seemed entirely immaterial. This was one dangerous book.

“Rule one thousand and forty-seven point two, pertaining to inappropriate usage of aerodynamically intended origami,” recited Hockey-Crompton.

Hans was astonished.

“Yes, you think you were being so original, don’t you, dear boy, but this book contains every schoolboy misdemeanour known to mankind.”

“Oh,” stammered Hans, incapable of saying anything else.

“Rule two hundred and thirty three point seven relating to overtly articulated disapproval of any member of staff’s preference where the opposite sex is concerned,” continued the Old Headmaster, “Now would you please do me a favour and look up the punishments for these offences, Kornik-Angstram?”

As the boy’s sweaty thumbs fumbled through the frail pages of the book, the existence of Hockey-Crompton’s cane looming menacingly in the shadowy corner of the room became particularly prominent in his mind.



“I’m afraid so,” droned the Headmaster with a deeply grave tone of voice. “Your actions, Kornik-Angstram, truly disgusted me. It was, as a matter of fact, exactly the kind of naughtiness I would’ve indulged in as a young lad had I had the imagination.”

“However,” he added, “As you are such a talented and… err… active… member of the Pindlebee School community, I am willing to compromise. It’s your choice, little boy; either I throw your creative writing on the fire before you leave this room or I cane you here and now. You choose.”

The decision was an agonising one. Hans frowned disdainfully at the cane, before proceeding to gaze at the many hours of work he had just handed over to the Headmaster. Finally the glance of the somewhat watery eyes beneath his furrowed brow rested on the cane as he had a thoroughly brilliant idea of how he could manipulate the befuddled old codger. In fact, it was so brilliant that he almost grinned stupidly, which undoubtedly would have ruined the entire thing spectacularly. Fortunately, the thought of the horror that would inevitably await him if his plan proved unsuccessful was enough to banish any risk of unintentional smiling.

“I put so much work into that story,” he pleaded, pulling a face intended to be endearing to the Headmaster but which actually merely looked as though the boy was in pain, “I would rather be caned all day than have it burnt – is there really any choice?”

His trick appeared to have worked on Hockey-Crompton.

“Correct answer, my friend. A weaker specimen of humanity would’ve sacrificed his intellectual efforts to avoid physical pain. You,” he rambled on, signalling at Hans with an unsteady finger, “are, despite your general unpleasantness, an asset to Pindlebee School. Now go forth into the big wide world, little boy, and we’ll both forget this meeting ever happened! Shoo, shoo, shoo!”

Hans dragged the heavy door shut behind him and skittered gleefully away.

…And there was much rejoicing.


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